Sens. John McCain and Mark Kirk — who met with members of Chicago’s Ukrainian community Sunday on the Near West Side — were polite but but didn’t offer support when asked about fellow Sen. Ted Cruz, who will become the first Republican to officially step into the 2016 presidential fray on Monday.
“He’s a very valuable member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and we’re quite friendly, and I think he is very articulate,” McCain said of Cruz, R-Texas. McCain then said: “I support Lindsey Graham.”
Graham, R-S.C., is exploring a presidential run.
“But I certainly think he’s a very viable candidate,” said McCain, R-Ariz.
When Kirk, R-Ill., was asked about Cruz, he said: “I haven’t made an endorsement in the Republican race yet . . .
the more the merrier.”
Further commenting on Cruz, Kirk said: “He’ll definitely be on the far right side of the Republican side and I will say I’m not going to be endorsing in the presidential contest because there’s no upside for the junior senator from Illinois getting involved so early. I’ll let my fellow Republicans make that decision about who their champion is going to be.”
McCain and Kirk visited the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Sunday afternoon in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. They told an enthusiastic crowd that they are urging the U.S. Congress to send weapons to Ukraine to help fight Russian-backed separatists.
U.S. Sens. John McCain (left) and Mark Kirk talk about arming Ukraine on Sunday. McCain told the crowd that European nations can’t be depended on to take the lead in challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media
“My favorite weapon to send to the Ukraine would be wire-guided anti-tank missiles, which, if they’re built in the United States, they can take out an old Soviet tank from 3,000 yards,” Kirk told a packed room of more than 200 people. “It would be great to see that on the battlefield in Ukraine, to see Putin’s tanks melt away,” Kirk said to applause, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
McCain told the crowd that European nations can’t be depended on to take the lead in challenging Putin. He added that he is worried that Putin might send forces into other territories.
“As I said before, Vladimir Putin, who we know — because he said so — wants to restore the Russian Empire. And then the question is: At what cost? The only reason why Russia left Afghanistan many years ago was because there was too many coffins coming home to Russian families,” McCain said.
McCain, who visited Kiev during the Ukrainian revolution, implored people in the audience to contact their legislators and urge them to act.
“I’m embarrassed and ashamed that the United States of America will not provide Ukrainian people the weapons with which to defend themselves,” said McCain, who added that the U.S. is also failing to provide the Ukrainian military with intelligence information on the location of troop movements.
“Today Russians are making use of drones, and if a Ukrainian soldier today sees a drone he has about 60 seconds to move because there’s an artillery shell coming after him. Can’t we in the name of God give the Ukrainian people weapons to defend their own sovereign country?”
Jospeh Owerko, of Park Ridge, walked away from the meeting with confidence that something might get done.
“We need help now,” said Owerko, 55. “Putin is on the move now. He’s doing things on a day-by-day basis that we need to stop now . . . This was a tremendous show to the Ukrainian community that Ukraine does matter to the United States. These people are very prominent in the Senate.”